- Helga Esteb/Shutterstock
- This sweet face is indirectly influencing politics in Washington from his TV show desk in New York City.
Remember John Oliver's brilliant net neutrality bit last year? The one where the Last Week Tonight host called Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler a dingo and inspired enough people to send comments to the FCC that those comments overwhelmed their servers? By giving the issue the irate, cutting humor that it deserved, Oliver translated deadly boring-sounding "net neutrality" into something everyone should care about. And they did, for a little while.
State Senator Cyrus Habib (D-Kirkland) credits that John Oliver segment with a bill he introduced in the Washington state legislature today. Habib’s bill would allow people from anywhere in Washington state to submit testimony to Olympia over the Internet, YouTube style. Instead of having to take time off work and drive hours to get in legislators' grills, people could just record a video of themselves and hit "send" to TVW, Washington’s equivalent of C-SPAN. Then, theoretically, legislators would watch the citizen videos connected to the bills they're considering before votes are held.
"It's hard to get even five ordinary people—not paid lobbyists—to come down [to Olympia] and testify," Habib says. But that doesn’t mean that ordinary people don’t care, Habib adds. And if John Oliver could get people to care about net neutrality and take action online, maybe an online comment system could do the same for everything that goes on in Olympia.
"Here's a guy who likes to take boring topics and make them interesting," Habib says. "If you can do that for an administrative process like the FCC on net neutrality, imagine the level of interest in issues people are even more familiar with at the state level."
Habib's got both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, so he's hoping this one will sail through state government. But lawmakers who quietly pass legislation by making topics so boring that no one even wants to show up to the debate may have something to say about it.